Summer Fancy Food Show 2018

Enjoy Life Foods exec on exiting cereal and frozen bakery upon Mondelēz’s acquisition: ‘We don’t chase trends’

By Douglas Yu

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: Enjoy Life Foods
Pic: Enjoy Life Foods
Enjoy Life Foods has evolved from a better-for-you snack producer to an allergy-friendly icon with double-digital annual sales growth over the past two decades, but the company said the secret to its long-term success is not to follow market data and trends.

That is why the company exited several food categories, including cereal, granola, frozen bagels and bread after it was acquired by Mondelēz in 2015, according to Joel Warady, general manager and chief marketing officer at Enjoy Life Foods. “These businesses were just not scalable and sustainable,”​ he said.

He told BakeryandSnacks during the recent Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City that the company made many mistakes in the past by producing trendy, yet unsustainable products.

“Our bagels didn’t taste very good and our bread was too dense, so we got rid of them. More recently, we got out of our granola business because the category is very localized. There are a few national granola brands, but most of them are local. We couldn’t compete with them,”​ said Warady.

“We decided ‘if we can’t be best-in-class in that category, we should get out of it’.”

He noted food trends have become easy to spot nowadays because manufacturers have more access to market data than ever before.

However, “at the end of the day, if these companies don’t have a gut for what’s right [for their products], they are just a data analyst,” ​said Warady.

“We never walked away from what feels right. When we look at ingredients, we look at what we want to eat ourselves,”​ he added.

“We also spend a lot of time at our consumer events. We talk to our consumers on a regular basis, and they are going tell us about what they are missing in their daily diets – that’s how we make the decision on our ingredients.”

Some of the areas Enjoy Life Foods is investing in:

  • Specialty diets: Gluten-free; low-FODMAP diets; vegan; nut-free; nightshades
  • Plant-based protein ingredients: Teff flour; Sacha Inchi; algae

Not chasing trends

Even though Enjoy Life Foods operates under Mondelēz, it is a highly independent company, noted Warady.

“We have our own innovation team in-house… but we don’t use Mondelēz’s R&D team, so it does give us flexibility on the innovation side,”​ he said.

As for product innovations, Warady said: “We don’t chase after trends we see at tradeshows, natural products or fancy food. We look at what is happening on a broader basis and ask ‘if they are sustainable or just a fad, something like sprouted?’ Then we try to make a decision.

“We saw many sprouted products two years ago, now we start to see them really wane. Whereas other things like non-GMO were in their infancy, but they have proved their sustainability in the market, and that people do care about non-GMO ingredients. So we jumped on it, and now all of our products are non-GMO project verified,”​ he said.

Another fad in the snack space is the usage of coconut and coconut oil, added Warady. “It was in every new product, but coconut oil has experienced a double-digit decline in sales according to Spins data. Coconut-based products also started to see a decline.

“Now the question is if cauliflower is going to experience the same thing. For the next two years, we might see cauliflower-based everything on the shelf. Will people eventually be tired of cauliflower?”​ asked Warady.

Special diets are here to stay

In addition to non-GMO, Warady said capitalizing on special diets is always a good idea for nurturing long-term businesses because they help prevent certain illnesses from happening.

“For the first 13 years of our business, we were talking about food allergy, and people have no idea what we were talking about. For the last four years, we saw products coming into the allergy-friendly space, and it validates what we’ve been saying for 17 years,”​ he said.

“We still love the fact that we’re number one in the category, and we believe special diets are here to stay.”

Warady added low-FODMAP diet​ and nightshades (people who cannot eat foods, including mushrooms and tomatoes) have also been on Enjoy Life Foods’ radar.

“Our only concern with FODMAP is that it’s too niche. But if we are certified, then we are definitely meeting the need,”​ he explained. “We can also do much more that makes sense for us.”

Additionally, Enjoy Life Foods is exploring new ingredients and food formats that fit consumers who have allergies.

For example, Sacha Inchi, which is a large seed from Peru and Bolivia, has a nut-like taste, and it is perfect for people with nut allergies, said Warady.

However, there are not many growers currently, and the seeds are very expensive, he added. “That’s why we are investing in is how we can expand the production of Sacha Inchi.”

Warady mentioned the seed is also a good source of plant-based protein.

“For all of our products, we have been trying to incorporate plant-based protein, because they are not only allergy friendly but also sustainable. For instance, in our baking mixes, we have had algae protein for three years. Algae is one of the most sustainable proteins on earth because it grows in the water,” ​he said.

Enjoy Life Foods will also introduce a breakfast item that currently does not exist in the natural or the allergy-friendly spaces during the upcoming Expo East, added Warady.

“We think there is still an opportunity for an on-the-go breakfast that gives people the nutrition they are looking for,”​ he said.

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Posted by Jean Bacardi,

Your candor is appreciated as much as your knowledge, Joel- thanks for the insight

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